2.02.2005

responding and getting clear

I feel like there's always groundwork to lay when talking about heady topics like evolution and faith. Some groundwork did get laid down earlier, like the definition of evolution and three different approaches to science vis a vis religion, but it seems now like I should respond to some specific (and good) questions before moving on. One question (brought up by a pansy, who shall remain nameless, and who only gets away with calling me a sissy because he's 5 hours away and therefore won't get his arse kicked anytime soon) concerns the implications of evolutionary theory. He brings up a good point--one that has been troubling to more people than any issue: if you concede natural selection and common descent (or, more generally, "descent with modification"), don't you make humankind more ape-like than it already is? There are three common responses to this question. The first is "it depends on which side you've descended from apes on: your mother's or your father's." (this is a joke). A second common response is that it doesn't really make any difference if humans are related to apes, really, since that has no practical bearing on either spiritual/moral issues or even general questions about how you're supposed to act in this day and age. In other words, it's a description, not a proscription for how you're supposed to act/live. The third (and I think best) explanation is also one of the oldest, posited by John Zahm and others as far back as the 1870s: that in bodily form, humans may resemble or even be derived from ape-like ancestors (not apes themselves, but a common ancestor)--but that is up for debate. The point that is not up for debate is that the essence that makes someone human--in Genesis, God breathes into Adam and makes him a living thing, in Imagio Dei--is not material and therefore can't be understood or spoken of by science. In other words, evolution doesn't necessarily indicate that you are a product of an ape-like common ancestor aside from the functioning of your body. A second question concerns the treatment of miracles in general. I mentioned this before, but just to be clear, I'll mention it here again. There's no sense in which science can deal with irregular, non-processual occurances. Here science really is (or should be) mute. So one might say that in claims about the veracity of miracles, you could make an evidentiary claim (i.e., you could argue with the evidence for or against a miracle) or a metaphysical claim (e.g., miracles do or do not exist). But an evidentiary claim examining whether or not a miracle is true or happened as reported can really only be challenged by counter-evidence within the same metaphysical framework. So two people may have seen a miracle, one claiming that a leper was healed of their leprosy, the other that it was another skin disease other than leprosy, but they are both starting from the assumption that something happened out of the ordinary--namely a miracle. Someone from a different metaphysical starting point might say that it wasn't a miracle at all, primarily because they either experienced something different (an evidentiary claim) or because they just don't believe miracles exist at all (metaphysical claim). As far as I can see, there's no way to take an evidentiary stance on things like the Incarnation, etc. without either a complimentary or antagonistic metaphysical stance. How does this relate to creation/evolution? Well, here, there is an observable process, so science should be able to tell you something. So I guess I see the miraculous, non-processual elements of faith as somewhat distinct from the regularity of claims about the origins and development of living things. A third, and final, question regards religion and evolution directly. Specifically, isn't religion a natural outgrowth, a by-product if you will, of life and in that sense, without real merit? This type of question is put out there by several uber-Darwinians including Dawkins, Dennett (all these "D" names), Steve Pinker, and Dean Hamer. I would put this kind of a question squarely in the "antagonism between science and religion" categorization. All of these questioners more or less insinuate that: (1) there must be a biological underpinning to all explanations of human behavior (2) religion is not based on any "real" understanding of the universe but is rather a social construct (3) science provides the best method for explaining what is really going on in the universe (4) science is (or should be) "value-free" and therefore questions regarding religion can only be studied scientifically if we assume that religion is explicitly and implicitly false. It's not that religion has no function, it's just that it's function is not to get you closer to God or to understanding God; religion is either something that reinforces social cohesiveness or an accident of the human mind, biologically programmed. Just spelling out the four committments of the Dawkins/Dennett/Pinker/Hamer position should make it obvious that these guys are presupposing something that they have absolutely no evidence to support: namely that naturalism is the best explanation for the way the universe works; naturalism provides a more true or more real set of explanations than any religious explanations. This claim is dramatically metaphysical. Since these four guys hate metaphysics with a passion, you'd think they'd see it in themselves and would be disgusted. But no, they feel that this little bit of disingenuity or philosophical sloppiness can be forgiven since their real point is to discredit any non-naturalistic explanations. In other words, they stack the deck so only their explanations count and then complain that no one else can come up with "good" explanations. Sorry this got so long. I hope it cleared up some bits of confusion. Feel free to throw down the gauntlet if it didn't. But I warn you...Blue Warrior needs food badly...I really liked Gauntlet.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

E:

I agree with you about the game Gauntlet. Classic game that one day if I have an arcade room will be apart of the collection.

But, may I digress? What I think you are trying to do is to get Christians and hopefully some non-Christian participants to say what they feel or know to be true about the interface between evolution and ID. The goal is to get people to be apart of a collective inquiry about the issues facing Christians that are not directly discussed in sermons or homegroups.

So, one area the bloggers will be dealing with is a difficulty in appearing to be a cohesive team regarding our faith. I beleive that people (myself included) find collective inquiry threatning. As a result, when one feels or is uncertain, they protect themselves from the pain of appearing uncertain. This tendency when present prevents to true learning and understanding.

As an example, I have tried and heard many Christians explain how the Atonement occurs. Typically the answer revolves around something as they have been taught or how they understand it. However, I have yet to find in my experience a clear, practical and plain-English description that a non-believer could wrestle with in their minds. Personally, I have failed many times to put this into words myself when asked. Therefor, I catch myself many times making fun of the philosphical consequences of evolution (i.e. which side is the ape on? mom or dad?) without fully uderstanding its theory or its practice (as a scientist). In this sense, I am a prisoner to my own thinking in the same way as the parable of "how to boil a frog".

Just a small gauntlet,
Matt

2/03/2005 7:38 AM  
Blogger Roja said...

E
Greetings from afar. I began digesting the issues - and then my eyes could no longer focus on the black screen and white writng. While it looks awesome...Im struggling here man. Give a dog a bone. Throw me some line. Saying this though, I just realised that I can read the article in normal script on the comments page...ummm...Im smart. Im on the net now after a long time off. Much peace. Roja

2/03/2005 8:10 AM  

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